Adventure games come in many forms. Some take us across an exotic world, some have us face incredible dangers, and all are united in that they have a quest with a goal in mind. Of course that goal varies from title to title, and how we reach that goal is just as varied. Along the way, adventure games can thrill us, entertain us, make us laugh, and even, on occasion, make us cry. These emotional journeys of discovery, when done right, give players a very different gaming experience than the big AAA spectacles. Such a journey comes to us from publisher Team 17 and developer Tiger and Squid in the form of a game called Beyond Eyes.
Beyond Eyes tells the story of Rae, who is blinded in a freak accident one summer evening. Rae withdraws from the world to the safety of her home’s garden, and one day she gets a visitor- a cat which she names Nani. Rae and Nani become quite close, but Nani, being a free spirited and curious cat, does wander away, taking longer and longer to return. One day Nani doesn’t return, and Rae musters her courage to go seek the cat out. Her journey is both heartwarming and frustrating, wondrous and frightening. She’s a blind girl making her way through unfamiliar places, having to use her senses to “see” the world around her. We as players see Rae’s world as she does, through the eyes of memory (since Rae wasn’t born blind she knows what the world looks like) and imagination. In this way Rae follows clues revealed by her senses and her mind, hoping that in the end she will be reunited with her friend.
The game unfolds in a similar way as the world did in The Unfinished Swan. But instead of sticking to a black and white palette with the occasional hint of color, Beyond Eyes unfolds as a beautiful watercolor painting. Sounds give us audio clues as to which direction to go, as only the world in Rae’s vicinity is revealed (the world will fade to white as you move on). On occasion Rae will also get some sense as to where Nani has gone, picturing in her mind the cat’s actions as it wandered about. Sometimes the colorful world will turn somber and threatening, with darker shades of purple, blue, and black when Rae feels threatened. You’re clued in to Rae’s feelings through her body language. When she’s at ease, her arms hang freely and she holds her head a bit higher. When scared Rae will hug her body and hang her head low, and let out frightened little moans. In these instances Rae will move more slowly, sometimes even refusing to proceed along a certain path, forcing you to find another way for her to go. Things can get a little frustrating at times, as walls, fences, and shrubbery block your path, along with dangers both real and perceived (not all of the dangers are actually real, just projections of Rae’s imagination). That frustration is by design though, to enable us to feel that sense of helplessness and uncertainty that the blind can feel in an unfamiliar place. In this the game does do its job, though not all players will get the point. The emotions are given a ride here as well. Hearing the bell on Nani’s collar fills Rae (and us as the player) with joy, only to dash that joy when the sound is revealed to be something else. You’ll experience these highs and lows fairly often over the game’s two hours. Some may find the highs and lows predictable, others may have a more emotional response. That response in the end can dictate as to how you feel about the game as a whole.
Beyond Eyes is not an action packed game. It unfolds at a little slower pace, which suits the character of Rae since as a blind person she isn’t exactly going to be sprinting about since she can’t see where’s she’s going. But it does relay a heartfelt story, a fairy tale of courage and friendship, as well as one that conveys the acceptance of loss and the power of hope. The game is beautiful to look at with its painted scenery, and that helps in making us want to explore, even when it becomes a little frustrating as to know where to go or what to do next. The dialogue spoken in game is relegated to only a couple of words, with occasional text to fill in story details. There is no tutorial, and you need to look for visual cues as to when to use the action button (the game tells you the first time what button to hit, after that it’s up to you to remember). It’s not a game that really lends itself to having replay value beyond experiencing the story again, as unlike Journey you will always make your trip alone. Despite that, it is a trip worth taking. The end will impact players differently, some will be disappointed, others will appreciate it, especially if you let the credits roll to see an end scene. Beyond Eyes won’t be for everyone, but for those willing to try a different type of gaming experience you may find this to be a very pleasant revelation.
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